Given the well-publicized environmental strain caused by our over-reliance on animal protein, the culinary landscape could do with a few more vegan restaurants demonstrating that plant-based dining can be more ambitious and exciting than a plate of seventies-style eggplant from the Moosewood Cookbook. Some cities have embraced vegan and vegetarian fine dining enthusiastically; New York’s Dirt Candy and Vancouver’s Acorn both notable examples of restaurants where one can eat vegan and feel not only satiated but special, treated to a well-considered fine dining experience. With Planta, Yorkville’s stylish new plant-based eatery, Toronto has joined the movement. The restaurant serves sophisticated meals in a photogenic space geared towards the set who tint their smoothies aquamarine with spirulina—all the better to tag #nofilter with.
A few of Planta’s dishes—the most novel—are meat-free replicas of familiar animal-based meals. The fish in ceviche is played by appropriately slippery coconut meat, and tuna flesh-red watermelon stars in a poke bowl. Crab cakes are made of hearts of palm, and diced beets create a tartare. Sometimes, the line between playful and comic in these renditions blurs: is it innovative to serve adults an aged, smoked carrot masquerading as a hotdog in a bun with sauerkraut and mustard for $18? Does the root vegetable’s careful preparation fill a void in the hearts of wiener-craving vegetarians or does the first unmistakably carroty bite leave the diner wondering if the joke’s on them? Of course, the answer to that question is subjective and the point here is that chef David Lee (previously of Victor Barry’s Splendido and Nota Bene) has evidently approached these dishes thoughtfully—in part as a way to show omnivorous diners just how versatile veggies can be. “People have a very defined vision of what their meal should look like and although we are changing that slowly, it’s important to offer food that still has some familiar elements to it,” says Lee. “Our guests can try something entirely new, without stepping so far out of their comfort zone.”
Planta’s more straightforward items—salads, lasagna with zucchini and eggplant, pizza on perfectly blistered dough—are uniformly well-executed and filling, and there are plenty of snackable fried junk food options, like truffle fries or crispy cauliflower tots, to share while sipping biodynamic wine or a fresh juice cocktail.
The room itself is an attraction—a high-ceilinged, 165-seat affair designed by Salm and East Studio, with a hand-painted mural by Toronto-based illustrator Tisha Myles, geometric black and white tiles, bronzed pineapples, and a tropical leaf-print wallpaper designed by local Candice Kaye (with which a few diners on my visit seemed to have dressed to camouflage into, palm fronds being a defining look of 2017).
Whether one is vegan or not, Planta is a restaurant worth visiting (and revisiting) to observe the continued creativity of a kitchen constantly striving to surprise and delight diners using what is often considered a limited set of ingredients. One hopes to see more of such innovation, and that the meat-free trend of which Planta is a part will continue to grow.
Planta, 1221 Bay St, Toronto, ON M5R 3P5.
Photos courtesy of Chase Hospitality Group.
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